★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Epic. Read it shortly after reading The Sparrow, and I’m glad that I read both together. Although it might stand alone, some of the characters are the same, and the story firmly builds upon experiences and events in The Sparrow.
I didn’t rate it 5 stars for a couple of reasons. One, occasionally Russell has the habit of dropping non-plot vital but important information in the space of a sentence, so if you tend to skim or even if your attention wanders, comprehension will suffer. An example would be along the lines of “It was many years into her widowhood when…” lets you know that the husband in the prior paragraph died. She actually does this again with one of the most pivotal characters
The Paramount, after a battlefield confrontation. I had to re-read the section two or three times to make sure I understood this is where the story ended for the alien man that was mainly responsible for Emilio’s repeated rape. It was a jarring note to have such a central character’s story fizzle out with someone mentioning his dead body on the field.
Second, because the scope of the story covered decades, not just years, time was treated in a very disjointed fashion, moving very slowly in the beginning, and then jumping through the years at the end. I got a little of the sense of, “let’s just wrap this up now, shall we?” from the narrative.
Barring those two complaints, it is a beautifully written book, with multidimensional characters. Despite the detail and complexity of the plot line, it is a mediation on religion, race and forgiveness, so it satisfies on many levels. I felt it deftly avoided preaching, while perhaps echoing a Socratic dialogue at times. The ending was genuinely a surprise. Incidentally, one of the few books that’s made me cry.